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Will Oscar Make Aliyah at Sunday's Ceremony?

February 24, 2011 By:
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Children featured in the documentary "Strangers No More"

Short and sweet -- and powerful.

Oscar-nominated in the short documentary category, the 39-minute "Strangers No More" is a golden rule about a school that does the strangest thing of all -- it works miracles where the magic of life otherwise seems to have been stripped of all its abracadabra.

Set in Tel Aviv's Bialik-Rogozin, a magnet school for impoverished, downtrodden emigres' children and persecuted kids, the documentary by Kirk Simon and Karen Goodman is all about the three R's: reading, 'riting -- and redemption.

Not so much a blackboard jungle as a textbook case of deserted dreams refreshed in this land of sand dunes, "Strangers No More" is about the magic of makeovers.

One has only to see the faraway look of hope in the eyes of young Esther, fleeing with her father from the far-away land of South Africa, where they have left behind a trail of tragedy, to understand the urgency of this Tel Aviv fairy tale come to fruition.

Nine-year-old Esther is one of three who draws the camera's focus as Simon and Goodman make good on their attempt to portray positively all these young strangers in a strained land, who are, quite literally, saved by the bell.

It is as if Karen Tal, the Tel Aviv school's principal, has committed to heart and action the lyrics of "We Are the World/ We are the Children" as she instructs and inspires a school that represents 48 nations.

For the oft-Oscar nominated American filmmakers, it was a lesson as well.

Far from his Cheltenham High roots, that school's erstwhile football team captain ("But we were 0-12," laments Simon) has co-quarterbacked quite an accomplishment in this documentary.

"As soon as you enter this school, you can feel the compassion, the diversity of all different religions. Remarkable," Simon says of this multinational mitzvah.

This was no child's play: Inside was a nirvana of nice surroundings; outside was an environment where "conservatives would threaten deportation of the children" born to illegals, Simon says.

The school is also a tutorial in how Israeli soldiers serving as tutors are educated in the values of guns and butter, having their hearts melted by these once hapless kids.

Now, the only question remaining for Sunday: Is Oscar coming with kleenex?

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